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Arizona basketball: Lack of depth forcing Wildcats to play at a slow pace

The lack of depth has turned Arizona into a halfcourt team

NCAA Basketball: New Mexico at Arizona Casey Sapio-USA TODAY Sports

When Sean Miller sat down in August and September to map out his plans for this current Arizona Wildcats team, he envisioned them to be an uptempo group, one that uses its depth and athleticism to score at a dizzying pace in transition.

But, through 13 games, Arizona is playing at its slowest pace (relatively speaking, given the change to a 30-second shot clock) in Miller’s tenure with the Wildcats.

Arizona is currently 289th (out of 351 teams) in college basketball in KenPom.com’s adjusted tempo stat.

“We’re not playing as fast as we have been or would have wanted to,” Miller said. “For that matter, in our planning, when you plan out what you’re going to do, usually in the month August and September into the fall, kinda how you envision your team, it’s been the furthest thing from how we envisioned it because of the losses we’ve had in terms of players.”

And there’s the reasoning: the Wildcats have been notoriously short-handed this season, going through most of the non-conference season with just seven active scholarship players.

Playing at a faster pace simply wouldn’t be in Arizona’s best interest, given that it would mean more possessions in a game — aka more opportunities to foul and more wear and tear on Arizona’s players.

“We walk the ball up at times, we’re patient,” Miller said. “When you play with seven players, each game is different because most of the time you’re not playing with seven. One of the seven is in foul trouble, one of the seven potentially fouled out, so you’re really dealing with six. You don’t want to ever put your team in a position where you’re playing with less than five scholarship players, so we’ve made many decisions throughout the course of the last month to slow the ball down.”

And that won’t change unless Arizona gets a player or two back from injury or suspension.

“You can sense sometimes our team runs out of gas, so even if wanted to push it, that wouldn’t be in our best interest because the results won’t be good for us,” Miller said.

To Arizona’s credit, the team has adjusted well to the slow pace it’s being forced to play at. The Wildcats are 11-2 and the No. 20 team in college basketball, according to KenPom.

“I like that we’ve played smart, we’ve played to win, we’ve played the best we can be with the team we have, and really I think that’s the responsibility you have as a coach and it’s the responsibility that the team needs to share,” Miller said.

“But we’ve learned how to play at different tempos. One of the things we’ve done a great job of is not fouling…and I hope to keep that even if we’re fortunate enough to return our team at some point.”


You can follow this author on Twitter at @RKelapire